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Southern California Edison won’t be prosecuted for its role in Woolsey fire

A hillside burns during the Woolsey fire
The Woolsey fire burns in the hills above Thousand Oaks on Nov. 9, 2018.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Southern California Edison will not face criminal charges for its role in the 2018 Woolsey fire, the California Department of Justice said Friday.

An investigation by fire officials determined that high winds led a loose wire owned by SCE to make contact with conductors and spark the fire, which killed three people and burned 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to a statement by the California Department of Justice.

SCE itself had admitted that its equipment was “likely associated” with the fire.

But the California Department of Justice said Friday that based on a thorough investigation into the cause of the Woolsey fire by the state attorney general’s office, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the Ventura County Fire Department, officials found “insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt” that the utility unlawfully caused “a fire or committed any other felony violation of California law.”

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The investigation involved examining video of the fire; statements from witnesses, fire officials and experts; autopsies; and a review of physical and scientific evidence from the fire, according to the justice department.

Justice officials said that to press criminal charges, prosecutors would have to prove the company’s equipment caused the fire and that the SCE “was aware that its actions presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire [and] that it ignored this risk,” according to the statement.

“Acknowledging the tragic loss of life and offering condolences to the families, the California attorney general’s office has therefore closed the investigation into this matter,” the justice department said.

Power companies have faced scrutiny for contributing to devastating wildfires throughout California. SCE has faced numerous lawsuits from insurance companies and victims’ families. In January, SCE said it would pay $2.2 billion to settle insurance claims from the Woolsey fire.

A year before the Woolsey fire, investigators determined that SCE power lines sparked the Thomas fire, a huge blaze that killed two people and later resulted in deadly mudslides that resulted in 21 more deaths.

Last month, Pacific Gas and Electric said in a utility report that its equipment might have sparked the Dixie fire, which has so far burned more than 510,000 acres, making it the second largest wildfire in the state’s history.

PG&E did face criminal charges for its role in causing the 2018 Camp fire in Paradise, which left 85 people dead and destroyed more than 13,900 homes. In March 2020, the company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. In June, it was ordered to pay $4 million for its role in the fire.


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